If you’re wondering how the new rules and pitch clock have affected time of play early this season, Exhibit A is the Los Angeles Dodgers, 10-1, win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium Saturday night.
There was plenty of action—eleven runs scored on 13 hits, including five home runs, with Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson hitting three of them. There were 15 strikeouts, with Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw notching nine in his six innings of work.
Time of game: 2 hours, 14 minutes.
“I love it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in Los Angeles after the game.
And what’s not to love? On average, 2022 games took 3:08. But through Major League Baseball’s first weekend with the pitch clock, limited pick-off moves to first base and no infield shifts, the average time of game dropped to 2:38.
That’s consistent with spring training, when the new rules were implemented and the games averaged 2:35, or 26 minutes shorter than last spring.
“We’re getting back to the way the game was intended to be played as far as pitch pace and rhythm,” Roberts said. “Fans can enjoy the ballgame and then look forward to coming tomorrow and not having to invest three and a half hours of their day. It’s just fun to watch a crisp ballgame.”
Pitchers now have 15 seconds to set and throw a pitch with no one on base and 20 seconds if there’s at least one man on. The hitter must be set at the plate with eight seconds left on either pitch clock. Relievers have two minutes and 15 seconds, to get in from bullpen and toss their warm-up pitches. Teams have that same amount of time to transition from the end of one-half inning to start of the next.
The penalty for taking too long is a ball for a pitcher violation and a strike if the hitter is not set on time. No questions asked.
“The biggest thing is just having the flow of the game from an entertainment standpoint,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said Monday in San Diego. “We’re cutting down on the dead time and letting the players’ talent show out on the field.”
Doing some back-of-the-napkin work, a half-hour less per game gives fans 4,860 more minutes—or 81 hours—to do things other than watch baseball over the course of a 162-game season. Extrapolate those numbers across all 30 MLB teams playing an average of 15 games a day and that’s 72,900 minutes—1,215 hours or 50 days.
It boggles the mind that so much time was wasted as hitters shuffled outside the box or pitchers strode around the mound from the resin bag to the rubber. The super shifts also took time as infielders had to look at position cards and move around from pitch to pitch. When the third baseman shifted to short right field and the shortstop crossed back from the right side of the diamond to replace him on the left that took a lot of time. As all that happened pitchers and hitters stood idle. No more.
Pitchers can now either step off the rubber or throw to a base two times an at bat. If either happens a third time, it’s a balk, allowing the runner (or runners) to advance.
Anecdotally, the throw over to first is becoming extinct, utilized only a couple of times a game. In the past pitchers would incessantly throw over to first base.
“That part of it as far as throwing over I control,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said on Tuesday. “Yeah, you can’t throw over near as much. I’m calling it a lot less. It’s still early in the season. I’m just trying to feel it out.”
Could the shorter games help elongate some careers, with players spending less time on their feet?
“I think with all of it we have to see how it plays out over the next few months,” Preller said. “Is it just an early season trend or pattern? Hopefully, what it does is just lead to a more enjoyable product at the end of the day. If it helps guys stay fresher, that’s just an added benefit.”
To accentuate the point, the Padres beat the D-backs, 5-4, in front of 37,602 at Petco Park on Monday night. Arizona’s Evan Longoria hit a homer in the top of the ninth, giving his club the lead. Padres pinch-hitter David Dahl homered to open the bottom of the ninth and Ha-Seong Kim followed with another, giving San Diego the win.
Time of game 2:29.
“[The shorter games are] something I got used to probably mid-way through spring training,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said on Monday. “I’d look up there at the scoreboard and suddenly it would be the sixth or seventh inning when normally it would be the fourth inning. MLB is doing a great job moving the game along.”
D-back pitchers have been nailed a few times for violations. On Monday during the first inning, starter Ryne Nelson missed his 15-second window while facing San Diego’s lead-off hitter Trent Grissom and was charged with a ball. A few pitches later Grissom launched a base hit.
On Opening night, during the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium, righty reliever Kevin Ginkel was warned by plate umpire Marvin Hudson and then charged with a ball for not giving Will Smith enough time to set up in the box.
This reflects a rule adjustment made at the end of spring training. In Florida, New York Mets starter Max Scherzer quick-pitched a hitter by throwing early in the 15-second count, and hitters complained. The rule was adjusted so a pitcher could not throw until the hitter is set at the eight-second mark.
These are the nuances of the new system, said Lovullo, who came out on the field and sought an explanation from Hudson and Ginkel.
“Ginkel said he was making eye contact with the hitter and didn’t know where his feet were,” Lovullo said. “One foot was clearly in the box and the other was out, and Kevin didn’t know that. We’ve got to be a little better and Kevin will make an adjustment.”
Ginkel pitched again this past Saturday night without incident.
If these are the growing pains, they’re well worth it considering the early results. Lovullo was asked if he expected he’d still be talking about this in July.
Lovullo’s answer was an unequivocal, “no!”
By then, the new rules will, hopefully, be ingrained in the game and the minutes saved will continue to grow.